Pandemic Summer

The following is a round up of news reports from various new sources about the current condition of the country. Between the virus, the ongoing recession, a lack of government agreement about pandemic strategy, and Trump sending federal agents into American cities in an authoritarian effort to squash unrest, it’s a been a bit hard to keep up and summarize every news item. I hope this snapshot gives a sense of the ridiculousness of our situation, that future generations might understand the unrelenting dumpster fire that is our current reality.

“The coronavirus caseload around the United States continues to soar. Eighteen states set single-day case records in the past week, pushing the country closer to breaking the national single-day record for new cases, set less than two weeks ago. The number of new U.S. coronavirus cases has stabilized over the past week, after having risen for the previous month. The current level — about 66,000 new cases a day — remains far higher than in virtually any other large, high-income country.

But the stabilization suggests that more Americans may again be starting to take steps to slow the virus’s spread, including wearing masks and avoiding indoor activities. More than 73,500 cases were reported on Friday, according to a New York Times database, approaching the country’s record of 75,697 cases, set on July 16. Since June 24, the seven-day average has more than doubled, to more than 66,100 on Friday from 31,402.

As the number of cases has continued to climb, so has the number of hospitalizations, which dipped briefly below 28,000 in mid-June but is now skirting its own April record. Deaths are also rising: Friday was the fourth consecutive day with more than 1,100 reported U.S. deaths, which are trending upward in 30 states. On Saturday, South Carolina announced 80 new deaths, a single-day record. On Friday, the number of people known to be hospitalized with the coronavirus in the country was 59,670, according to the Covid Tracking Project, a few hundred short of the record of 59,940 reported by the database on April 15.

Even as the virus continues to surge across the United States, pockets of resistance to public health measures continue to appear in parts of the country. On July 25, about 150 demonstrators marched outside the state capitol in Springfield, Ill., in opposition to Illinois State Board of Education guidance that says face coverings will be required in schools this fall.

Yet, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that people with mild Covid-19 cases — including young adults with no underlying conditions — can suffer symptoms that linger for weeks. A telephone survey of nearly 300 adults who tested positive but were not hospitalized showed that more than a third were still suffering symptoms two to three weeks later, including fatigue, cough and shortness of breath. [i]

To make matters worse, the start of the school year is fast approaching with no national strategy to open schools safely. “Trump has made opening schools a key priority as he looks to restart the economy. Students need to return to the classroom so their parents can return to work, he has said. His push has at times put him at odds with his own health officials. Earlier this month, he said school guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were too tough, prompting the agency to promise updated guidance. Some of the nation’s largest districts have already rejected the idea of a full reopening. The Los Angeles and San Diego districts plan to keep classes online this fall, while New York City’s schools plan to offer a mix of online and in-person instruction. Trump on Thursday said he’s asking Congress to provide $105 billion in education funding as part of the next virus relief bill. It’s meant to help schools reduce class sizes, hire teachers, rearrange spaces and provide masks, he said. But if a local district doesn’t open, Trump said, the money should be steered to parents so they can pursue other education options. “If schools do not reopen, the funding should go to parents to send their children to the public, private, charter, religious or home school,” he said. “All families should be empowered to make the decision that is right for their circumstance.” Responding to his proposal, the president of one of the nation’s largest education unions said Trump was “sowing seeds of chaos and confusion so he can fulfill his and Betsy DeVos’ dream of privatizing and voucherizing public education.[ii]

In other news around the country:

  • In May and June, U.S. employers were adding jobs. People were eating out more often and spending more money in stores. But that mini-recovery seems to have ended. Multiple economic indicators — including new claims for unemployment benefits have flatlined in recent weeks. The country reopened more quickly than medical experts were urging, causing virus cases to surge — and people to pull back again on normal activities.
  • The White House and Congress are at odds over pandemic relief package. Washington is racing to complete a fifth round of legislation to address the ongoing, and still surging, coronavirus pandemic in the next three weeks. The two parties and the White House are at odds over what the major pillars of the legislation should include and how much it should cost. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has listed some components, including $105 billion for schools, some additional federal unemployment support, a second round of direct payments, and legal liability limitations to prevent lawsuits related to COVID-19.[iii]
  • Federal authorities said they would bring order to Portland, Ore., after weeks of protests there. Local leaders believe the federal presence is making things worse. Federal agents dressed in camouflage and tactical gear have taken to the streets of Portland, unleashing tear gas, bloodying protesters and pulling some people into unmarked vans in what Gov. Kate Brown of Oregon has called “a blatant abuse of power.”[iv]
  • President Trump announced on July 22, that the Justice Department would send hundreds of additional federal agents into cities to confront a rise in shootings and other violence. The announcement comes amid heightened scrutiny on interventions by federal law enforcement officials in urban areas amid protests prompted by the police killing in May of George Floyd in Minneapolis — including the deployment of Department of Homeland Security agents in camouflage uniforms to confront protesters in Portland, Ore., in the name of protecting federal buildings from vandalism.
  • Most cities have experienced an overall drop in crime during the coronavirus pandemic — people staying home has meant fewer opportunities for assaults, rapes, domestic burglaries and other violence, according to criminologists. At the same time, homicides and shootings were up in numerous cities and began to rise during the summer, traditionally the peak crime season because people are outdoors for longer and boil over more readily in the heat.  A sharp rise in shootings in major cities like Chicago and New York have captured most of the attention, but many cities across the United States have seen similar increases, including those run by Republican mayors.[v]
  • President Trump has threatened to send federal agents to clean up what he called “totally out of control” crime and disorder, some big-city mayors and police officials are pushing back on such federal involvement, suggesting that the president is using their cities as props in a political game. Portland, Ore., has become a cautionary tale. Several Democratic mayors have said they do not want unidentified officers dressed in camouflage patrolling their streets and battling protesters. If the federal government wants to bring resources to bear on violence, said mayors and other officials, it should help with issues like gun crimes, rather than dispatching officers who will make an already tense summer worse. “The deployment of unnamed special secret agents onto our streets to detain people without cause and to effectively take away their civil rights and civil liberties without due process — that is not going to happen in Chicago,” Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot said at a news conference on July 21.[vi]
  • Already battered by the coronavirus pandemic, southeast Texas faced Hurricane Hanna which slammed the coast with heavy rains and winds predicted to reach up to 110 miles per hour. Hanna strengthened from a tropical storm to a Category 1 hurricane on July 25 while coronavirus cases have been rising in several counties in the path of the hurricane.
  • Eric Holcomb of Indiana signed an executive order this past week requiring residents to wear face coverings beginning July 27, after the state recorded a new high of more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases on Friday.
  • In Arizona, where some closures but no full lockdown was imposed when cases exploded in June, the number of patients hospitalized with the virus is starting to decline.
  • The Supreme Court on Friday rejected a request from a church in Nevada to block enforcement of state restrictions on attendance at religious services. The vote was 5 to 4, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joining the court’s four more liberal members to form a majority.

[i] U.S. Coronavirus Cases Soar as 18 States Set Single-Day Records This Week.  July 25, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/25/world/coronavirus-covid-19.html

[ii] In Shift, Trump Says Some Schools May Need to Delay Opening. The Associated Press. July 23, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2020/07/23/us/politics/ap-us-virus-outbreak-reopening-schools.html

[iii] White House And Congress At Odds Over Pandemic Relief Package. Kelsey Snell, Susan Davis, Deirdre Walsh. July 21, 2020. https://www.npr.org/2020/07/21/893605817/white-house-and-congress-at-odds-over-pandemic-relief-package

[iv]Federal Agents Unleash Militarized Crackdown on Portland. Sergio Olmos, Mike Baker and Zolan Kanno-Youngs.   July 21, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/17/us/portland-protests.html

[v] Painting Bleak Portrait of Urban Crime, Trump Sends More Agents to Chicago and Other Cities. Charlie Savage. July 24, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/22/us/politics/trump-federal-agents-cities.html

[vi]  Cities Say They Want Federal Agents Fighting Crime, Not Protesters. Neil MacFarquhar, Charlie Savage and John Eligon. July 21, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/21/us/trump-federal-agents-chicago.html

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